Iron Curtain 2018. (Wherein I cross my childhood border and revisit spiritual remnants of the Berlin wall.)

I crossed this border once again.

The mythic border, across the river in the mist

in the mornings, heading towards the sunrise,

when i was a very small child.

it’s ingrained in my brain, perception and heart

even though there is no border here anymore.

Even the Syrians can apparently pass.

No one controlled me.

There was no endless queue of overheated peddlers’ and smugglers’ cars stretching until the horizon

There was no border police glancing at me with benevolent complicity after hearing which language i speak

or with a cold, closed front on the way back.

I went by train, so there was no one judging the contents and morals of my life by the colour of the license plates.

No one to call us traitors, opportunists.

No one to envy, no one to be envied.

No one asking me that annoying mantra of “and where is it better?”


It’s not the wild east anymore.

I have to travel further now to find it.

I found it in Ukraine years ago. misery, chaos, warmth, poverty, aggression, open-heartedness, genuineness, crime, deception, struggle, solidarity, betrayal, realness, dreaminess that decrepit and derelict sensation of “home”, of the first – yes, happy – years i’ve spent on this planet in this life.

anyways, the eastern border is getting pushed east for me.


a decade or two of feeling guilty for privilege.

the privilege of having been on benefits in a rich country and lived better (define better) than those who stayed back and got up for work at 4 AM.


when i come back here, i cross the border … i see people suffer, but perhaps i am full of hidden reproaches. from someone who has been both overprivileged and underprivileged.

they suffer on different levels. but they don’t remember, perhaps, the blood ties, that you have to help each other, that you can’t live independently. because you can’t. but here, you could. you can.

at least many can.

people are colder here.

but they are also warmer, the ones whose character doesn’t fit the national character. their warmth is genuine, it breaks through the cultural mask.

still, their homes don’t smell of home.

they just aren’t homes, for me. they never will.

i will sooner turn my guts inside out than have someone say that because i hold this passport, this is my home, or i am one of them.

i haven’t been, i’m not.

tho i can pass, paradoxically, as long as no one sees my last name and birth place.


the border, which is open for now, all its contexts, meanings, auras.

the past which is held in the minds and hearts of immigrants, which you can’t find anymore even if you cross the border back, because it’s become something else in the meantime.

your home becomes a dreamland.


essentially, people on both sides become incomprehensible.

i look for other axes of identity, as someone – my mother, and also my philosophy lecturer – advised me.

progressive people say the concept of nationality is pointless.

the concept perhaps, but if your senses and heart are open as a child you don’t forget the smells, feels, emotional atmospheres, subtexts, glances, the kind of skin and eyes and handshakes and colours, the walls peeling off and the species of shrubs, mushrooms and berries growing in specific summers, the melody of a specific language, the rhythm of shared gestures, the “air” of a specific stretch of land. the tone of the speaker on the radio. you don’t forget where the spoons and crystal bowls were produced, when you find them decades later in … Romania. or wherever. your senses accept or reject or abide in mild discomfort, or in gradual oblivion of what it meant to experience flavour and a familiar, hugging mould that didn’t smell of vacuum and sterility.

perhaps it’s easier for those who are not sensual, seriously. for those who don’t read energies. for those who can’t tell by minor inflections or shadows flickering across a facial expression, by the colour of warmth or cold and solidity someone radiates where their roots absorbed their first vitality. i can tell on trains, from someone’s back, feet or shoes, tho of course i get it wrong. but not that much.


my friend said i don’t have a mother tongue.

i wonder what it’s like, to be synchronised, deeply, to one language, place, cultural rhythm.


in the last years, i’ve learnt to appreciate the colder, more distanced, more factual and level-headed and more annoyingly bland, rule-following, somewhat spirit-less country; yes, crossing the border still gave me feelings of suffocation, but here people don’t stare at me for my clothes or my gender.

it doesn’t have the warmth of my family.

it also doesn’t reject me for not being X.

it doesn’t embrace me or care about me, really, either. doesn’t understand me. but the Western ethic is to leave people to their privacy, theoretically, more so, and in my case i do get benefits from that.

sure, it would be better to be embraced. but realistically, finding a liveable niche is the thing. habitable. not having to be: various things that my tradition values, that i value in ways, too – i understand them – but that i’m not built to live, by some paradoxical streak of chance or meaning.


could there be both language, belonging, and self and relationships and home, all in one place?

what’s life like when it’s not a frontal collision of inner needs and values on every front?

voice in my head, and perhaps in a friend’s head, says, totally privileged to even have the day free to think about that. place to live. at various people’s. schnorring, acceptable to the yeshivebucher but the time has to come perhaps to find a profession ten years after the proper time. perhaps there will be none, home, profession, perhaps too many forces are meeting here, at a nexus that was built for something much simpler.


i’ve started eating meat occasionally, and pulling the weeds in my (squatted) garden – admitting death, causing small avoidable deaths (of plants, perhaps animals).

beginning to acknowledge that things in fact must die, death is necessary if there is to be life in the moment. that’s not just a material and ecological truth.

the death of moments,

perhaps the death of decades,

the death of whole slabs of personality,

massive attachments and personality structures that don’t let one live.

we can have either the past or the present, if we are lucky to have a present.

3 thoughts on “Iron Curtain 2018. (Wherein I cross my childhood border and revisit spiritual remnants of the Berlin wall.)

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